“I will NOT mispronounce Spanish words for the convenience of others!”
When a customer at her Mexican restaurant mistakenly tried to correct her Spanish pronunciation, 19-year-old Jasmine Vega did what most of her peers would do. She posted a TikTok.
What the teenage server did not expect, however, was the deluge of views and likes she received in reaction to the exasperating encounter.
Insisting on The Incorrect Pronunciation
In a video uploaded on July 7, Vega (@jjasminevega) described how a non-Spanish-speaking customer attempted to order tamales from her parents’ business. Per the teenager’s version of events, this customer insisted on mispronouncing the dish’s name, even going so far as to correct the Mexican-American server.
“A lady came in one day and asked to order tamales. But of course, she said, ‘Do you have any tamales [mispronounced as tamal-EEZ]?’” Vega recalled in her TikTok. “And I said ‘Yes, we do have tamales.”’ The correct Spanish pronunciation is ta-MA-les, with an emphasis on the middle syllable and ‘e’ like in ‘get’ or ‘bread.’
However, the customer only doubled down on her mistake: “No, not tamales, tamal-EEZ.”
After Vega kept using the proper Spanish pronunciation to confirm the restaurant did have tamales available, the customer claimed, “No, I don’t know what that is. I’m asking for tamal-EEZ.”
@jjasminevega and bonus points to the customers/friends who ask how to pronounce a word correctly😘😘 #mexicanfood #spanish #mexicanrestaurant #whitewashed ♬ original sound
For those unfamiliar with this Latin American staple, a tamal (the singular form of tamales) is a dish made by enveloping a mixture of dough and fillings in a banana leaf or corn husk. The wrapped dough is then steamed or boiled until firm. Tamales are meant to be unwrapped and eaten at home or on the go.
On TikTok, Vega vented her frustrations after the ‘tamales’ discussion: “I am not mispronouncing this for you, and I don’t think they’re too different. … [It’s the] same as in instead of saying burrito, I say bu-RRI-to. And it’s pretty clear to tell that they’re the same thing.”
“Perhaps it’s my refusal to let Mexican food be yet another thing on the checklist for America to whitewash, but I will not mispronounce Spanish words for the convenience of others,” Vega declared in her video, which has racked up around 200,000 views and 45,000 likes.
The teenager wrapped up her TikTok by clarifying: “I’m not saying everyone has to pronounce it the right way. Lord knows, I probably mispronounce [words] when I go to Italian or Asian restaurants. But don’t get mad when people do pronounce it the right way.”
As the views on her video increased, online users showed their support for Vega in the comments. “At that point, I would’ve been like, ‘No, we don’t have tamalees, but we do have tamales,’” quipped another TikToker.
“My coworker is like that. She says ‘bre-uh’ instead of birria and when I say it correctly, she tells me to ‘speak English,’” sympathized a fellow Spanish speaker. In response, Vega marveled at “the audacity for her to correct you on a food from your culture.”
Another commenter compared the experience to “Me saying carnitas correctly at Chipotle and the employees acting like they’ve never heard that word before.”
“I also do this with cities in CA too! Like San Rafael, San Pedro, San José, etc.,” chimed in one user. Many English speakers in the US regularly anglicize the historic Spanish names of these cities, which previously belonged to Mexico until the mid-1800s.
The Family Business
Despite the frustrating encounter, Vega is still happily working at her family’s restaurant. Located in Corinth, Texas, Maria’s Mexican Restaurant first opened in 2017. In an interview with Vox Media, Vega described how her hard-working immigrant parents first started their dream business without even a high school diploma.
As the restaurant began struggling to turn a profit back in 2022, Vega’s parents were on the brink of losing it all. At this crisis point, the 19-year-old intervened and put her social media skills to work. Her first video on the subject, which depicted her father’s grueling 14-hour work days, now has almost 9 million views.
@jjasminevega everyone has low expectations until they actually try our food 😭 #mexicanrestaurant #familybusiness #dfw #momandpopshop #smallbusiness #parati ♬ original sound – Prichard colon
“TikTok helped keep my parent’s dream of owning a restaurant alive. When business was slowing down, we didn’t think we would be able to renew the lease,” Vega explained in collaboration with the platform. “The community and the customers that we gained from TikTok helped keep my parent’s dream alive.”
@tiktok Maria’s Mexican Restaurant was a dream for @jas ⍤’s parents. But when business slowed, that dream was in doubt. That’s when Jasmine started posting on TikTok. Now a struggling family business is a sweet success story thanks to the support of millions of people on the platform. #TikTokSparksGood ♬ original sound – TikTok
According to Vega, business is currently booming for Maria’s Mexican Restaurant. The flood of customers that followed her first viral video allowed the Vega family to renew their lease, hire full-time staff, and even make enough profit to consider an expansion. Nowadays, the restaurant is habitually full during lunch and dinner rushes, with returning customers who diligently spread the word on sites like Yelp.
Presently in college, Vega continues creating social media content for her parents’ restaurant. Her most recent post makes light-hearted fun of the multiple hats she’s expected to wear as the owners’ daughter: from server to cashier and from manager to content creator. “Grateful for it all though,” Vega wrote in the caption, with a little pink heart emoji.
@jjasminevega grateful for it all though🤞🏼💗 #mexicanrestaurant #fyp ♬ original sound – Tik Toker
This article Customer Corrects Mexican-American Server on How to Pronounce Tamales was syndicated and produced by TPR Teaching.
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Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.